Homosexual teachers in the St. Louis area are disgusted when
they hear gay jokes, but they say nothing. They get jittery when
spotted marching for gay rights. They avoid questions about their
personal life and talk to reporters about homosexuality only with
Why? They fear losing their jobs.
Except for Rodney Wilson.
Wilson, a history and social studies teacher at Mehlville High
School, told his teen-age students during a class discussion in
March on the Holocaust that he was gay. Wilson, 29, told the class
he would have died because Nazis killed homosexuals.
After he "came out," administrators sent Wilson a memo saying
classroom discussion of "facts and belief of a personal nature" was
"inappropriate conduct for a teacher."
Wilson challenged the district. He won support from the gay
community, teachers, parents and students and, from behind the
scenes, the National Education Association (NEA).
Gay and lesbian teachers find longstanding support from their
unions, including the NEA. Since 1973, the NEA has offered free
legal counsel to teachers harassed or discriminated against because
of sexual orientation.
The NEA continues to support a resolution adopted almost a
decade ago that states "all persons, regardless of sexual
orientation, should be afforded equal opportunity within the public
education system." The union also believes personnel policies and
procedures must protect an individual's rights in relation to his
or her sexual orientation.
On Thursday, the issue came before the Mehlville School Board
after Wilson was featured in a cover story Aug. 3 in the Riverfront
Times. About a dozen Mehlville residents on both sides of the issue
spoke to the board.
"We have nothing against him being gay," said Debbie Povich, a
parent. "We just don't want him to teach it to our kids."
Povich's husband, who spoke to the board, said afterward that
he felt homosexuality was "a deviation. It's unnatural."
Another resident, Joan Ward, said homosexuals had shorter
lifespans. "The body is not meant to be used in that way," she said.
But a few parents like Anne Kasal spoke in support of Wilson.
Kasal said her son, Jason, now 20, is gay and graduated in 1992
from Mehlville High School.
"I really do feel he has the right to say he's gay," Kasal said
in reference to Wilson.
Kasal said she knew a number of other gay teachers in Mehlville
schools, "and they're wonderful teachers," she said.
Both Mehlville Superintendent Robert Rogers and School Board
President Alex Lantos say Wilson, who is nontenured, has a contract
to teach in the coming school year at Mehlville High.
The issue of gay teachers had never come up in Mehlville until
Wilson brought it up. And the board seems ready to let it drop.
Said Rogers: "We expect Mr. Wilson or any other teacher to
teach the appropriate curriculum. I think he needs to follow that
guideline, and he'll be fine."
When asked what he thought of gay teachers, Rogers said, "If
(Wilson) wants to announce he's gay, that's his business." And if
Wilson continues to make that announcement in the classroom?
"That may be a different issue," Rogers said.
Lantos said that regardless of parents' point of view, he
appreciates the concern they have for their children. "I think
every parent has the right to state their opinion," he said.
Wilson intends to stay out of the closet, although he is vague
about whether he will discuss homosexuality in class. Wilson
contends he has not violated any policies of the Mehlville School
District and adds he intends to follow those policies.
"This is purely a free speech issue and an academic freedom
issue," he said.
Wilson finds little company "coming out." Most gay and lesbian
teachers crowd the closet cloaking their sexual orientation.
"It's kind of like the military," said a lesbian teacher at a
public high school in St. …